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Parcevall Hall (also known as The Bradford Diocese Retreat House, Percival Hall)


Parceval Hall has a designed garden associated with a greatly extended farm-house. The site has medieval origins, and was extended in the 17th century with some 20th-century alterations. The gardens are largely of early-20th-century design, which include a formal terrace garden, woodland garden and rock garden.


The site occupies a shoulder of land bounded by the Skyreholme Beck valley to the west and by a valley to the south-east . The ground slopes steeply down from the northern tip of the site.

William Milner was to use his own architectural skills to transform Parcevall Hall (shown as Percival Hall on the 1909 Ordnance Survey map), his modest Dales ‘longhouse'. The house was set in a bleak landscape at an altitude of approximately 700 feet, the main access being by a track of over half a mile across fields to the north-east of the house. The track met Black Hill Road approximately one mile south of its junction with the Grassington to Pateley Bridge road. Vehicle access from the south was then by way of a ford adjacent to a footbridge across Skyreholme Beck. However, on a clear day the hall commanded one of the finest viewpoints in the Dales, to the north to Troller's Gill, to the south-east to Simon's Seat and to the south-west towards Barden Tower.

Adjoining the level terrace to the south of the house was a walled area of land of approximately 0.3 acre, sloping down both east-west and north-south, planted in around 1920 as a small garden with some shrubs and trees. Near the west end of the terrace was a small barn which had been used as a shippon. This was to be demolished together with a second barn close to the house on its northern side. A third large barn to the north-east of the house was retained. Extensive extensions were to be mainly to the north of the older section of the house and were built in Tudor style, including the Great Gateway leading to a new entrance courtyard.

For the south of the hall he designed a much larger walled garden with level terraces which were built using the large quantities of rock dug out from the hillside to accommodate his extensions to the house. This was a huge operation taking 30 men three years to complete. Romilly Craze frequently visited the site during this time. By 1929/30 they had formed a joint London architectural practice, Milner & Craze, specializing in ecclesiastical architecture. Indeed writing in 1932 William Milner attributed the design of both the house and the gardens to Messrs Milner & Craze.

The design for these terraced gardens was strongly axial, with the centres of the 1671 porch on the south front, the shallow steps from the house terrace to the first terrace below, and the circular pond on the first terrace. Other features are a double flight of steps from the first terrace to the second terrace together with its rectangular pool below covered by a semicircular arch, all lying on its central axis. It was essentially as shown in the charming illustration first published in 1941 by the Chinese artist Chiang Yee in his book The Silent Traveller in the Yorkshire Dales.

The house-terrace (known as the top terrace) was initially laid out to a much simpler design than today. Beds were only on its northern side, those by the house itself being very narrow. The rest of the terrace was covered in gravel. (Thomas Mawson had also used complete simplicity of garden design next to a beautiful building for the Arts & Crafts garden at Whinburn, Keighley in the 1920s.) The central steps were built with two small protruding bastions on either side to feature the long idyllic panoramic views to the south. Steps leading up to a large doorway with a stone roof terminated the cross axial view along the terrace to the east. To the west it was terminated by a flight of steps leading down to a doorway in a semicircular projection of the west boundary wall.

Yew hedges were planted to divide the first terrace into three rectangular compartments. A pergola was to be built adjacent to the east wall, a popular feature of Arts & Crafts gardens, but this feature was equally important for perfecting the balance of the overall design. At its southern end a gateway in the east wall gave additional access to the woodland gardens beyond.

The second terrace was also divided into three compartments by yew hedges, the western section featuring a rectangular pool, whilst the eastern section was built with a raised section at the east end, again for perfect balance of design.

Early photographs, including that of Queen Mary, William Milner's Godmother, standing on the first terrace, suggest that all the paths of the first and second terraces were constructed in crazy paving, a very popular choice at that time.

Yee's illustration shows these terraced gardens elevated above the surrounding land by buttressed walls like a hill fortress. It was to remain essentially as such until William Milner added an extra terrace in the 1950s. The illustration also shows that by 1940 shelter belts had been established and a formally designed rectangular axially symmetric rose garden had been constructed to the north-west of the hall on a gently sloping site.

Clearly depicted is the large stone garden pavilion situated centrally on the northern boundary of the rose garden and a central lower gateway in the opposite lower wall. Double glass panelled doors spanning the rear wall gave access to the garden to the north whilst a folding glass panelled screen covered the entire front wall if extra shelter was needed. In front, until they were stolen around 2003, were small Hindu statues, a gift from his sister, Lady Linlithgow, Vicereine of India, between 1936 and 1943. (William Milner would certainly have had many accounts of Lutyens masterpiece, the Viceroy's Palace, which his sister had restored to its original colour schemes!) Also shown are the two newly-built cottages. The one nearer the rose garden was for the handyman. The other was a drawing office for William Milner.

William Milner became the 8th Baronet of Nun Appleton in 1931. He had a significant figure in the amateur horticultural world. His interest went far beyond garden design. He became an extremely knowledgeable plantsman but was also passionate about the beautiful local flora of the Yorkshire Dales. He was the cousin of Lady Serena James whose husband, the Hon. Robert James, laid out the garden at St Nicholas, a compartmentalized garden, which has been described as the Hidcote of the north. Robert James became a close gardening friend of Sir William, sharing his passion for old roses and rhododendrons.

Sir William was to become the chairman of the Yorkshire Branch of the newly-formed Northern Horticulture Society in 1946. He was also the Director of Harlow Carr Gardens for the years 1955-60. Amongst his friends were Lord Grey of Howick, Northumberland and the great plantsman J.C. Williams of Caerhays, Cornwall. So Sir William would have been aware of all the fashionable trends in landscape design and horticulture, but he also had intimate knowledge of some of the greatest gardens in Britain. He was certainly familiar with the gardens of Ingleborough Hall created by the late Reginald Farrer (1880-1920) who has been described as ‘the real champion of the modern rock garden'.

Sir William designed a rock garden for Parcevall that was to be considered the best in Northern England. It was built above the hall on the steep hillside where the natural bedrock was limestone. Stripping away the soil revealed the foundation for his natural rock garden which he embellished with a series of pools and rills. This garden would have contained many plants that he had specially raised from seed collected by the greatest plant hunters of that era including George Forrest, Frank Kingdon Ward, George Sherriff and Frank Ludlow. These were to grow side by side with some of Yorkshire's most beautiful native plants propagated from the natural limestone flora of the Dales, such as Viola lutea in all its three colour forms and Primula farinosa.

Below the lower wall of the rose garden Sir William constructed borders for more tender plants. He installed pipes under the central path to heat the borders, but unfortunately this practice was soon discontinued owing to the high cost of fuel. However, some of the original plants remain, as does the summerhouse at the west end. At the east end a path went behind the two cottages to the north-west corner of the chapel garden.

The chapel garden is a formal intimate garden. At its west end is the asymmetric hexagonal chapel Sir William built for his own personal use. This has floor to ceiling windows on two sides, enabling the chapel and garden to seem as one and from which the beautiful vista of Simon's Seat could be seen. Directly opposite to the entrance to the drive near the outer courtyard is a formal small stone stepped cascade over which a stream from the rock garden gently falls into a semi-circular pool below.

The gradual transition of these geometric gardens into the rural landscape was made by encircling them with less formal areas planted with specimen trees, orchard or woodland gardens.

The construction of a wooden bridge across Skyreholme Beck had enabled the approach to the property to be changed to a southern route. From the bridge a driveway lined with an informal planting of shrubs and trees led between the old cottages, named Ridge End House on the 1909 edition Ordnance Survey map, to a low stone bridge over Tarn Ghyll Beck, a tributary of Skyreholme Beck, before the start of the steep climb to the hall.

Sir William's garden would not have developed into an outstanding plantsman's garden of the day without the construction of a walled kitchen garden on the west side of the drive close to Skyreholme Beck and these cottages. It was to be used not only for growing fruit and vegetables but also for raising plants from seed for his outstanding rock garden, propagating shrubs and trees and especially for his passion for breeding rhododendrons.

The lawned area on the west of the steep section of the drive was planted with specimen trees and thousands of daffodils, including some bred by Sir William.

Near the top of the drive, before it turned east for the final approach to the hall, was a little single storey building, the Engine Room, built to house the generator which provided all the electricity for the hall before mains electricity was installed. This was to be screened from the house and terraces by planting a group of specimen conifers, now known as St Cuthbert's Wood.

To the north of the engine house Sir William planted an area of soft fruit and above an orchard of apple trees together with a few specimen trees of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana Wisselii and Cupressus sempervirens. The latter too was carpeted in spring with thousands of daffodils, including his own hybrids.

Sir William successfully established an area adjacent to the orchard for growing some of his own hybrid rhododendrons, overcoming the problem of a very alkaline soil by using the plentiful supply of local bracken.

A rough steep path from the top of the orchard led to the Cliff Garden, a craggy outcrop, high above Skyreholme Beck to the west. To the north lies Troller's Gill, a brooding atmospheric dry limestone valley where trolls of Norse legend are said to live. Sir William planted the cliffs with alpines including some of his own saxifrage hybrids and carpeted the steep slopes below with wild daffodils propagated from the famous Farndale daffodils of Yorkshire.

A path left the Cliff Garden, skirting the top of Silver Wood, a long-established wood shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps before dropping down through its central area to join a path to the rock garden. From there a path led through a shelter belt of trees, past the east wall of the terraces to Tarn Ghyll Wood. This was an area probably replanted by Sir William to replace an earlier wood shown on the first edition Ordnance Survey map but missing from that of 1909.

Towards the top of the wood Sir William dammed Tarn Ghyll Beck to create an ornamental lake. Below the stone dam a circle of conifers enclosed an area planted with rhododendrons (only the stumps of the original planting remained in the 1990s) with presumably a gap to enjoy the vista of the lake and its waterfall over the dam spillway. The wood was planted with many species and hybrid rhododendrons together with bamboos close to the stream. Paths through the wood, crossing the stream by little rustic bridges, led back to the cottages at the bottom of the drive.

The final phase of constructing these gardens was completed in the early-1950s with the addition of a central double flight of stone steps leading down to a new terrace (known as the bottom terrace) divided into four compartments. From a small compartment at the east end with a raised bed against the buttressed wall, steps led down to the three rectangular lawned compartments stepped down to the west. The terrace's principal feature is a stone-arched alcove under the steps sheltering a seat. Steps led down from the arched alcove to the Red Borders, bedded out with mainly different varieties of red dahlias. Beyond was a large area of rough grass, (known as The Ploughings) and beyond again Tarn Ghyll Wood.

Two compartments of rough grass on either side of the borders were also known as The Ploughings. During World War 2 these areas were used for growing fruit and vegetables. The Ploughings formed a transitional area between the formal terraces and Tarn Ghyll Wood to the south. The lack of adornment by trees would have been deliberate so nothing intruded into the view of the terraces from the south, or conversely the view of the red borders and beyond from the new seat on the bottom terrace.

Adjoining the terraces to the west was the Camellia Walk where a short flight of steps led to a doorway on the outside of the heavily-buttressed walls of the protruding bastion of the top terrace. This gave access to a landing from which a flight of ten steps led to the west end of the first terrace.

The area of these gardens extends to over 18 acres. Apart from the initial main period of construction it was tended by a head gardener and generally four or five other staff.

It has been suggested that the garden design and planting represented an ‘allegory of world religious faiths'.

Ruska Plantation was an area of woodland to the south-west of the main gardens that certainly existed in the mid-19th-century. However, the lower part had been felled by 1909. It was part of the 300 acre estate belonging to the hall. The lower wood was later replanted by German and Italian prisoners of war using a mixture of broad-leaved trees and conifers, particularly Douglas fir and silver fir to form a shelter belt for the hall. When viewed from the south the hall appeared to be framed to the west by this plantation and to the east by the trees within the garden itself. Sir William would have deliberately introduced conifers to convey the spirit of the forests in, for example, Nepal or indeed Tibet, as he had done throughout the main gardens, including the orchard, and to balance the framing of the hall from the south.

Indeed, Ruska Plantation became known as Little Tibet. Flowering cherries were planted on each side of the ride in the lower wood whilst in the upper wood Sir William had a nursery area for his rhododendrons. These were planted in rows between the trees in the lower section. Higher in the wood species rhododendrons and Sir William's hybrids were planted on both sides of the beck flowing down through the wood. Those on the northern bank were encircled by a planting of Hydrangea arborescens Grandiflora on their western side.

In 1947 Sir William formed the charitable religious company, Walsingham College Yorkshire Properties Ltd., with himself as managing director in order to control the future use of his home, garden and 300 acre estate. The shareholders were the Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Thus from 1947 he continued to live at Parcevall but on a lease. After his death in 1960 the Hall was let to the Diocese of Bradford, for use as a retreat, conferences etc. The garden was opened to the public from about this time.

The old apple store at the east end of the sheltered borders was converted into lavatories for garden visitors.

Much of the young stock of rhododendrons raised by Sir William was sold to the Leeds Parks Department for planting in The Hollies or Golden Acre Park.

In 1963 a large new wing was added at the east end of the oldest section of the house This was set back from the main house following the line of the small extension at the west end added by William Milner. Fortunately this had little impact on the design or enjoyment of the garden except that the link between the inner courtyard and the top terrace was lost due to the removal of the section of garden wall containing a gateway.

A plan for a ‘Proposed Car Park at Parcevall Hall Appletreewick', dated August 1968, by James Hartley & Son, Architects and Surveyors, Skipton is for the car park at the top of the drive, currently used by hall guests.

A new set of steps, designed in December 1974 by the architect Neil Hartley of James Hartley & Son, was built linking the west compartment of the first terrace with the top terrace. This allowed the central and eastern sections of the top terrace and the main central steps to the first terrace to be reserved for the use of the hall guests only, yet garden visitors could access directly the western section of the top terrace which leads to the gateway to the outer courtyard and the car park near the top of the drive.

Since 1997 car parking for garden visitors has been in part of the kitchen garden, thus the need for these steps is lessened since visitors now need to go in the opposite direction to directly return to their cars from the first terrace. Though the new steps were placed on the central axis of the west compartments of all the terraces they destroyed the beautiful symmetry of the first terrace and detract from the most important link of this house to the garden, the central flight of steps to the first terrace. Moreover, presumably to reduce the cost, before building the new steps, the flight of steps at the west end of the top terrace was removed so that its stone steps, side walls and copings could be used for the new steps.

The entrance to the top terrace from the camellia walk was walled up in gritstone, the former flight of steps being buried under many feet of rubble. Thus an important key design feature of Sir William's terrace gardens was removed. This also weakened the design of the top terrace as the balance of the cross axial features was destroyed. In Sir William's time the gateway in the bastion would have been framed by Eucryphia glutinosa, but now the trees virtually hide what remains of this former gateway.

Also in the 1970s the Guardians of the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham made a gift to the gardens of a sculpture by Christopher Hall of Edinburgh. This was sited in the circular pond on the first terrace. Sir William's design for his terrace gardens had not included any statuary. He had used symmetry, the simplicity of the classic shapes of circular and rectangular pools, complemented by his own sympathetic planting schemes for the design of his gardens adjacent to the modest 17th-century wing of his home. Later research by J. Makin (1989) suggested that the pool was intended to be a ‘mirror pool where the reflections of the clouds on the still surface of the water represented the troubles passing through man's soul', and so of course should not contain any statuary.

Perhaps also at this time a very steep narrow concrete slope was made linking the second to the bottom terrace adjacent to its eastern boundary. This was of no ornamental value and certainly not in a style to complement Sir William's terrace gardens. It was replaced around 2000 with concrete steps. Another gateway to the woodland gardens beyond had been made near the top of the slope, possibly also in the 1970s.

Again in the 1970s, the rose garden was renamed Colin's Garden in memory of Canon John Colin Stephenson, a former Master of the Guardians of the Shrine of Walsingham, after the majority of the roses suffering from rose sickness were replaced by a variety of alternative flowering shrubs. The central beds of Sir William's design were long and narrow and were not divided by any cross-axial paths as existed at that time.

Building of the extra garages for the hall in the 1970s cut off the direct access from the rose garden and sheltered paths to the chapel garden.

A ‘Landscape Scheme for the Inner Court' was designed by James Hartley & Son in March 1981.

New orchards were planted in the two smaller areas of The Ploughings to the west and east of the Red Borders in the 1990s, using both existing and additional late-flowering old varieties. With the appalling loss of old orchards since 1970 some apple varieties are nearing extinction. However those at Parcevall have benefitted from the knowledge and expertise of Mr Ernest Oddy who has identified and propagated from Sir William's trees and budded and grafted other old varieties. His work at Parcevall between 1980 and 2000 has resulted in Parcevall's orchards being now considered as a useful source of bud wood in the North of England.

Due to the lack of understanding of the management needed for the upkeep of Sir William's gardens, by the 1980s they had fallen into serious decline. Fortunately this was eventually recognized and by 1984 Jo Makin had been appointed as Gardens Administrator. The enormous task of restoring the gardens began in November of that year.

Although there was little archive material at Parcevall, Jo Makin developed a deep understanding of the gardens through detailed historical research. For example, she found at Harlow Carr Gardens the records of the many seeds, cuttings or plants sent to the gardens by Sir William. She concluded that it would be reasonable to assume that the same species (or hybrid or varieties) were growing at Parcevall. She was also able to collect verbal information from former staff which, together with early colour slides, helped her to learn how Sir William used colour in his planting schemes. In bedding schemes, for example, Sir William's preference was for several colours, but carefully blended. He was said to positively dislike the garish modern schemes used then by Harrogate Council. He is quoted as saying ‘I didn't realize the Superintendent has so little taste'.

Colin's Garden was again replanted as a rose garden in 1998. This was the culmination of a huge project for the garden staff which was begun in 1995. The gardeners broke up and disposed of over 50 tons of concrete from the old paths and changed the levels of the garden to eliminate the slope across the garden as Sir William had done for his terrace gardens. New retaining walls were built together with new steps and gates symmetrically placed at both ends of the upper northern boundary. The design of these new gates was in the Arts & Crafts style similar to those of the main terrace gardens. New gates were also made in this style for the main lower entrance.

Jo Makin has suggested that the wide central bed of Sir William's design ‘could be compared in proportion to the chadar or water chute, a feature of Islamic, Indian and Persian gardens' (1989), the moving water being represented by Sir William's planting of mixed thyme. Unfortunately it would have been too labour-intensive to reinstate this planting. Instead ground-cover roses were used. These were replaced in 2005 by a lawn edged with narrow borders each planted with three columnar junipers, Juniperus communis Hibernica.

The long narrow beds, planted with roses and dianthus, of Sir William's design were separated by narrow paths, parallel to this central area. This layout was not suitable for a garden open to the general public. Instead Jo Makin's new design featured four rectangular rose-beds divided by paths in a cruciform pattern on each side of the central bed. Possibly wooden trellises festooned with roses bounded the garden initially or in addition to a newly-planted hedge. Certainly many years ago informal hedges of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana had been planted, which by the 1990s had become tall trees. These were felled and replaced by yew hedging.

Details of Sir William's planting scheme were not known so the decision was taken to replant the garden with David Austin's new English roses, bred for scent and continuation of flower, together with peonies, hemerocallis and irises. Wooden trellis obelisks, specially made for the garden, have been introduced to support climbing roses. Unfortunately some of the English roses have failed to thrive and have had to be removed, but it is hoped to eliminate this problem by improving the drainage in specific areas.

In 2003 the area surrounding the circular pool was repaved using Indian stone, replacing concrete which possibly had been laid in the 1960s replacing the original crazy paving clearly shown in an early photograph in the hall scrapbook. The inappropriate labour-saving plantings of conifers and heathers of the 1970s had previously been removed from the adjacent beds, which were replanted with mainly herbaceous planting in soft colours in 2000. In Sir William's time standard fuschias were bedded out around the pool in summer with, for example, snapdragons and fuschias, whilst wallflowers and tulips were planted for spring flowering by Alec Delgano, Sir William's last head gardener.

Alterations, including the addition of an extra storey, were made around 2001 to the former Engine house, now named St. Cuthbert's Cottage.

By the 1980s Sir William's hedges had become tall trees which were felled in 1991. New Thuja hedges were planted in 1992. The replanting of Sir William's red dahlia borders as red herbaceous borders was completed in 1999. The borders were widened in 2003 to a width more suitable for an herbaceous border and replanted.

The lake in Tarn Ghyll Wood became derelict in the 1970s when the dam started to leak. The woodland walks were lost too under a mass of brambles and fallen trees. Reinstatement of these walks started in 1993, with the majority in place by 2005. The Royal Engineers (the ‘Sappers') completed laying a track to the dam in 2004 ready for the work necessary for the restoration of the lake. Unfortunately they found that they had neither the skill, equipment nor the time needed to complete the task. However they did further work including removing the broken sluice gate. Grants have been applied for to finish this project but to date have not been successful. Plans are underway to replant the area around the lake with species and hybrid rhododendrons once grown by Sir William, thus completing the final stage of the major restoration project if or when the lake is restored.

Ruska Plantation had also suffered from lack of management. Grants from the Forestry Commission in 2004 resulted in some felling and replanting of the lower wood and an avenue of cherries reinstated. Fences have been removed to unite the two sections of the wood previously separated by a wide track. Trees have been planted on parts of the former track and the lower section of the upper wood have also been replanted, including the site of Sir William's former rhododendron nursery beds.

An area of new woodland has been planted adjacent to and above the upper wood. This area will be dominant in the framed view of the hall from the south when more mature. A conservation programme to preserve Sir William's important historic collection of rhododendrons has commenced. The first stage of an identification procedure by experts at the RHS garden at Wisley has been completed. It will take several years for the identification of all the rhododendrons to be completed, though the parentage of some of the hybrids may not be fully established. It is hoped that some time in the future this wood will also be an additional area for visitors to the gardens to visit.

The production from Sir William's kitchen garden had been phenomenal, not only fruit and vegetables but also the vast quantities of plants raised from seeds and cuttings for the gardens, with much of the surplus going to Harlow Carr Gardens. By the 1980s the kitchen garden had not only fallen into decay but was unkept. Sir William's Alpine House and a further glasshouse, probably from the 1950s, were both beyond repair and had to be demolished. The brick frames used for propagating Sir William's rhododendrons were also demolished. Unfortunately Sir William's lean-to greenhouse now needs urgent repair. This was a key feature of the garden.

Against the back wall were planted Camellia japonica Lady Clare, C. j. Tricolor and C. j. magnoliiflora Alba and a climbing pelargonium. Also grown were Black Hamburg and Green Muscat grape vines, the Strawberry Grape (said to have been a gift from Harewood by the Princess Royal), peaches replaced by nectarines after the war, the fig Ficus carica White Marseille and melons. Pots of Cistus Silver Pink, C. x cyprius and C. laurifolius added to its charm together with Cytisus x racemosus. More importantly it contained pots of Rhododendron dichroanthemum, R. fictolacteum and R. obtusum Amoenum used in Sir William's rhododendron breeding programme. Today it still plays a key role in the production of plants for maintaining the high standard of planting for Parcevall worthy of Sir William. Temporary structural repairs need to be done before this winter to ensure its future whilst grants are being sought to fund its restoration.

Lin Hawthorne described the gardens in glowing terms in her article in March 2005 for The Garden, the RHS magazine. There she wrote

‘The enchantment of Parcevall Hall and its garden, in the wake of its restoration over some 20 years, is undeniable. Now owned by the Walsingham Trust, and in the careful hands of Head Gardener Phill Nelson, it is an exemplary project. I believe, with all due prejudice, that its success is due in great part to the active involvement of working gardeners such as Jo Makin - who for 16 years was Garden Administrator - in bringing it back to life.

There are still parts yet to be seen by the public: I was recently taken round an area, formerly hidden by trees, that the trust hopes to open in the medium-term future. First sight of it made my spine tingle. Aptly named Little Tibet, it is a steep, rocky ghyll planted in naturalistic style with rhododendron species (many wild-collected in China), and hybrids bred by the late Sir William Milner, owner-architect of the hall, and a founder of the (then) Northern Horticultural Society's Harlow Carr Garden. Its merit lies not just in outstanding beauty, and association with an influential northern gardener, but most clearly in the recorded botanical and horticultural interest of the plants that fill it, and the skill with which they were sited and planted.'

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

An early 20th-century garden laid out by the architect Sir William Milner with formal and informal elements, and further developed by him during the mid-20th century.


Parcevall Hall lies 1km north of the village of Skyreholme and 2km north-east of the village of Appletreewick in a remote valley which runs south into the north end of Wharfedale. The approximately triangular, c 9ha site is bounded to the north by Middle Hill, to the west by Skyreholme Beck, and to the south-west, south-east, and north-east by pasture. The site occupies a shoulder of land bounded by the Skyreholme Beck valley to the west and by a valley to the south-east through which a tributary of the Beck, Tarn Ghyll Beck, flows south-west, close to the south-east boundary of the site. The ground slopes steeply down from the northern tip of the site, above Trollers Gill Cave, to the lowest point at the southern tip, at the main entrance to the site where the two becks meet. The setting is rural, and very isolated at the heart of the Pennines, with long views extending south-east to Simon's Seat and Little Simon's Seat on Barden Fell, and south-west down the valley towards Barden Tower, a ruin standing several kilometres south in Wharfedale. A woodland called Tibet Wood, or Little Tibet, including Ruska Plantation, stands c 400m south-west of the Hall (outside the area here registered), planted by Sir William to shelter the site from the south-west winds (P Nelson pers comm, Jan 2002), and also creating an essential frame for views into and out of the site. It was planted with Douglas firs and silver firs together with some deciduous species. Access was via a ride flanked with flowering cherry trees which were removed in the 1980s (Makin pers comm, April 2002).


The main approach enters the site 300m south-west of the Hall, at the north end of the lane from Skyreholme. A wooden bridge stands at the end of the lane, marking the entrance to the site, straddling the Skyreholme Beck. From here the drive runs north-east between two stone estate cottages, continuing north, carried across the Tarn Ghyll Beck by a small stone bridge standing 250m south-west of the Hall. From here it runs up the steep hillside flanked by wooded lawns, with glimpses of the Hall and terraces above to the north and the Skyreholme Beck valley below to the west. The drive turns east, flanked by low stone walls, 50m west of the Hall. The drive passes to the south of a motor house and yard, and then Sir William's chapel and its associated small formal garden (from which it is separated by a clipped beech hedge), to arrive at the outer court on the west front of the Hall. The court is bounded by a stone wall on the west side, the central entrance being marked by a gateway flanked by stone piers topped with tall lantern fittings. The court is bounded by an exposed rock alpine bed on the north side, by Sir William's northern extension to the Hall to the east, and to the south by the south wing of the Hall, from which a stone wall with a doorway projects westwards to meet the west wall of the court. The doorway gives access to the garden terraces and the front door on the south front of the Hall. From the outer court the garden is hidden, only being revealed, together with the extensive view south, upon opening the wooden garden door. A carriage arch in the northern extension on the east side of the outer court gives access to the service wing of the Hall and beyond this, to the east, to the inner courtyard. This enclosure is bounded to the north, west, and south by buildings, with a high stone wall on the east side. An exposed outcrop of stone occupies the northern end of the inner court, planted with alpine species.


Parcevall Hall (C16, extended 1928-30, listed grade II*) stands towards the north-east boundary of the site. By the early C20 it had become a farmhouse which, when the architect Sir William Milner bought it in 1927, was extended significantly by him to the north in similar vernacular style. The two-storey building is built of local ashlar and faces south, overlooking the formal garden terraces below.


The gardens and pleasure grounds are divided into two main sections: a series of formal terraces adjacent to the south front of the Hall, and informal largely wooded pleasure grounds enclosing the Hall and terraces.

The front door of the Hall, at the centre of the south front of the earliest wing, leads out onto the stone-flagged path which runs the length of the top terrace and is flanked by a narrow strip of lawn to the south and a border to the north. The east boundary of the top three of the four terraces is formed by a stone wall, stepped down to the south to follow the terraces. At the east end of the top terrace, set into the wall, is a large doorway with a stone roof, with stone steps up to it giving access to woodland walks beyond. The west end of the top terrace widens to accommodate two beds surrounded by stone flags, with, to the north, the doorway in the north wall to the outer courtyard. This area is bounded to the west by a stone wall and to the east partly by the Hall. The south side of the top terrace is bounded by a buttressed stone retaining wall, at the centre of which a flight of shallow stone steps leads down to the second terrace. The steps are flanked by two small bastions protruding from the retaining wall, providing viewing points from the top terrace. Long panoramic views extend south from all the terraces towards Simon's Seat and down the valley to the south-east towards Wharfedale.

The steps lead down to the centre of the second terrace (also known as First or Round Pond Terrace), which is somewhat broader than the top terrace and divided by clipped yew hedges into three main compartments, all approximately square and of the same size. This terrace is bounded to the south by a further stone retaining wall. The central compartment is laid largely to stone flags with a central circular pool, encircled by beds set in the flags. The flanking compartments are laid largely to lawn encircled by stone-flagged paths and borders. At the east end of this terrace stands a pergola with square stone pillars and wooden cross members, running alongside and protected by the east terrace wall. At the south end of the pergola is a further doorway set into the east wall, smaller than the one on the terrace above, again giving access to the woodland garden beyond.

From the central compartment on the second terrace a double flight of stone steps leads down to the third terrace (also known as Second or Long Pond Terrace) which is again divided into three compartments by clipped yew hedges. The steep steps descend around a rectangular pool set into the retaining wall and covered by a semicircular arch, to emerge on a flight of broad stone steps leading down to the lawn which runs the length of the terrace, through each compartment. The western compartment contains a rectangular stone pool at the centre of the lawn. The lawn is largely enclosed by borders. The east end of the eastern compartment rises up several steps to a raised lawn enclosed on the west side by a clipped yew hedge.

From the central compartment on the third terrace a further double flight of stone steps leads down to the fourth terrace (known as Bottom Terrace), enclosing a seat in a stone-arched alcove. The fourth terrace is laid to lawn and divided by lines of stone setts into three compartments which step down to the west. A long border runs along the bottom of the buttressed retaining wall, containing to the east agapanthus and to the west nerines. Steps lead down to a broad lawn which extends south flanked by the Red Borders (herbaceous), these in turn flanked by clipped hedges. Beyond the hedges, to east and west, lie rectangular areas of orchard known as The Ploughings, and beyond these to the south is a further informal lawn bounded by mature trees.

The top three terraces were laid out by Sir William in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The 1909 OS map shows that before his work a terrace ran along the south front of the Hall, with a roughly square compartment adjacent to the south of this, probably a kale yard. Sir William retained and embellished the top terrace and created the two below in his initial campaign. The fourth terrace was laid out during the 1950s, also under his direction (Makin 1989). The Ploughings were ploughed up during the Second World War for vegetables.

From the outer courtyard the rest of the gardens are reached via the Chapel Garden. The Chapel Garden is a formal enclosed compartment laid out with a cruciform pattern of stone paths dividing beds to the east of, and overlooked by the small chapel built by Sir William when he bought the site which stands 30m west of the Hall. A formal, stone, stepped cascade runs down the bank from the north, into a semicircular pool (known as Half Moon Pond) set in the paving. At the north-west corner of the Chapel Garden a flight of steps leads up the bank to the extensive Rock Garden which occupies the hillside immediately north of the Hall. The Rock Garden is laid out with a series of pools around which paths wind northwards, and occupies an area of limestone which was stripped of its top soil and exposed by Sir William in order to create conditions suitable for alpine plants. The water is piped from a nearby spring and supplies the Hall and water features in the gardens below. At the north end of the Rock Garden a path continues northwards up the steep hillside through woodland to the northern tip of the site, to reach the Cliff Walk. This Walk overlooks Skyreholme Beck in the valley to the west and Trollers Gill to the north. The path returns south through the orchard, lying 50m north-west of the Hall, which is planted with mature fruit trees. To the south-east lies the Rose Garden, a series of rectangular rose beds divided by gravel paths, laid out by Sir William and remodelled in the 1990s. On the north side of the compartment stands a stone garden pavilion with a stone roof, overlooking the Rose Garden.

South-west of the Rose Garden and west of the drive is The Wilderness, a wooded area through which the drive winds.

From the Rock Garden a path winds south-east through a shelter belt of conifers and deciduous trees, passing the east wall of the garden terraces, to Tarn Ghyll Wood. The walk encircles the Wood, which is bounded by a paddock on the north side. Tarn Ghyll Beck runs through the Wood and is dammed 200m south-east of the Hall. The stone dam now (2002) leaks, but formerly held a pool to the north-east of it, around which the woodland walk extends. North-east of the pool (currently empty) the woodland walk turns south-west to run parallel to the site boundary to the south, arriving back at the point where the drive is carried across the Tarn Ghyll Beck north of the estate cottages. Formerly a circle of conifers stood to the south-west of the dam, encircling a group of rhododendrons in which stood a seat. The seat overlooked the dam spillway which was constructed to look like a natural waterfall. This feature has largely disappeared (Makin pers comm, April 2002).


The rectangular kitchen garden lies in a sheltered position 175m south-west of the Hall, adjacent to the south end of the west boundary. It is bounded by stone walls and given over to several uses including lawn at the northern end, vegetable beds along the west and south sides, and car parking on the east side. At the north end stands a lean-to glasshouse. The walled garden was erected during the 1930s for Sir William.


Country Life, 132 (25 October 1962), pp 1039-41

M Allen, Fison's Guide to Gardens in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales (1970), pp 255-6

K Lemmon, Gardens of Britain 5, (1978), pp 101-4

J Makin, Parcevall Hall Gardens, (dissertation, IoAAS, University of York 1989)

Parcevall Hall Gardens, guidebook, (c 1990s)

English Heritage Register Review: North Yorkshire (1995)


OS 6" to 1 mile:

1st edition published 1853

3rd edition published 1909

Description written: January 2002, Amended: April 2002

Register Inspector: SR

Edited: May 2002

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details


The site is north-east of Skipton, off the B6160. Please see:


The Walsingham Trust


There is evidence to suggest that there was an earlier building on the site of the present hall, or in its proximity, which had belonged to Bolton Priory before the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. In 1549 Sir John Yorke of Gouthwaite Hall purchased the manor of Appletreewick which included Parcevall Hall Estate. The estate remained in the possession of his descendants until 1638 when it was sold to the tenant of that time, George Demayne.

The oldest part of Parcevall Hall today is thought to date from the beginning of the 17th century. George Demayne sold the estate to his son-in-law, Christopher Lowson, one year after his marriage to his daughter, Elizabeth Demayne, in 1661. Christopher Lowson also bought two extra fields in 1660, Day Flatts End and the large field below the hall then known as The Great Croft. In 1671 a ‘bride-house' was added to the hall at the west end and a new porch on the south front. Elizabeth died in 1691.

Christopher Lowson then went to live in Bewerly, having married in 1693 Elizabeth Inman, the mother of his daughter's husband Robert Inman. He died two years later leaving the majority of his estate to his son-in-law, Robert. However, the estate was sold in the early-18th-century and subsequently had various owners before it was bought by T. E. Yorke, a descendant of the previously mentioned Yorkes, in the late-19th-century. During much of the 18th and 19th centuries the hall was occupied by tenant farmers but the estate itself grew as a result of various enclosures. Frank Laycock of Skipton bought the estate from the Yorke family and subsequently sold it to William Milner (1893-1960) in 1927.

In 1711 William Milner's ancestor, also William Milner, a wealthy cloth merchant in Leeds, bought the substantial property of Nun Appleton at Cawood. This was the former home of Lord Thomas Fairfax, built on the site of a Cistercian nunnery. His son was created a baronet in 1716/17. William Milner's father inherited the baronetcy on the death of his brother in 1880. However, the estate was sold in 1897 to pay his brother's debts, but its romantic setting must have been a formative influence on the young William. He left Christ Church, Oxford in 1915 in his third year of reading classics and philosophy to serve in World War 1. Just as Victorian Oxford graduates before him, such as William Morris, William Milner developed a passion for the medieval period. He also became a devout Anglo-Catholic. In 1923, whilst living in London, he helped to fund the restoration of the medieval shrine at Walsingham, Norfolk and later made further substantial donations including the land for a new shrine. The architect for this project was Romilly Craze.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):


The Manor of Appletreewick belonged to Bolton Priory before the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Persevells farm was subsequently acquired by Peter Yorke, who left the property to his second son, Thomas, in 1589 (guidebook). Parcevall Hall was little altered until it was bought in 1927 by Sir William Milner Bt (1893-1960), whose godmother, Queen Mary, became a frequent visitor to the Hall. Sir William greatly extended the original stone farmhouse, constructing a courtyard behind it by blasting out large quantities of stone. The blasted stone was used to construct a formal terraced garden below the Hall, on the site of a former walled enclosure (OS 1853, 1909) and meadow. At the same time an extensive rock garden was created behind the Hall, using large stones brought from the nearby moor and placed around the exposed bedrock. The garden was initially laid out over three years from around 1930, supervised by a Mr Cross (Makin 1989). The garden was further developed during the following decades, including the construction of a fourth terrace in the 1950s, until Sir William's death in 1960. Up to thirteen gardeners were employed, and a fine collection of plant introductions was made. Sir William knew other contemporary garden-makers including the Hon Robert James of St Nicholas (see description of this site elsewhere in the Register), Richmond, North Yorkshire (to whom he was related by marriage via his cousin, Lady Serena James), and he obtained plants introduced from expeditions to Western China and Tibet by George Forrest and Reginald Farrer (Makin 1989). The garden design and planting is thought to have represented an allegory of world religious faiths (Makin personal communicaton, April 2002).

On his death in 1960 Sir William left the Hall and gardens to the Walsingham Trust, who subsequently leased the property to the Diocese of Bradford as a retreat house, in which use it presently remains (2002).


  • 20th Century (1901 to 1932)
  • Early 20th Century (1901 to 1932)
Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: GD5068
  • Grade: II


  • Garden Terrace
  • Description: For the south of the hall Milner designed a much larger walled garden with level terraces
  • Planting
  • Description: Chinese themed garden.
  • Planting
  • Description: Woodland garden.
  • Hall (featured building)
  • Description: The oldest part of Parcevall Hall today is thought to date from the beginning of the 17th century. The house was greatly extended in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Pergola
  • Ornamental Pond
  • Description: Circular pond on the first terrace.
  • Rockery
  • Steps
  • Description: There was a double flight of steps from the first terrace to the second terrace.
  • Pool
  • Description: Rectangular pool.
  • Plantation
  • Description: Ruska Plantation became known as Little Tibet.
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Rose Garden
Key Information





Principal Building

Religious Ritual And Funerary


20th Century (1901 to 1932)





Open to the public


Civil Parish





  • Dr. Anne Tupholme

  • Yorkshire Gardens Trust